The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) has hired a third party to investigate claims of sexual violence and harassment within its ranks, and advise on changes that will make the workplace culture safer for all.
Chief Peter Sloly and Coun. Diane Deans, who chairs the police services board, announced the appointment of Toronto employment lawyer Janice Rubin and the law firm Rubin Thomlinson during a teleconference Wednesday.
The OPS has contracted Rubin and her team for at least six months and will pay for their services within existing budgets, Sloly and Deans said. No specific budget was provided.
"This is a major priority for the Ottawa Police Service," said Sloly, with respect to addressing workplace sexual harassment and violence. "We need to rid the culture of it."
Rubin was previously contracted by CBC to investigate workplace harassment claims relating to the former host Jian Ghomeshi.
Erin Leigh, executive director for the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, welcomed Wednesday's announcement to hire a third-party investigator to look into complaints.
"I think that's really meaningful. I think the opportunity to report an incident to somebody that is not within the service [and] who may be buddies with the person who has harmed you, is incredibly valuable," she said.
Rubin and her team will take anonymous complaints 24/7 from members of the OPS, investigate them and recommend resolutions, said Sloly.
Deans said she hopes the new process makes it easier for victims of sexual violence and harassment to speak out, by ensuring the investigations are free from repercussion and take less time.
"Victims of these incidents have not felt that they've had a safe place to report," she said. "We are absolutely committed to rooting out bad behaviour in police and changing the culture inside police."
Deans joins call to suspend pay
Last week, Deans seconded a notice of motion introduced by Mayor Jim Watson to formally request Ontario to give police chiefs or police services boards the ability to fire with cause or suspend the pay of officers who've been charged or convicted of serious crimes.
"We need harsher penalties for those committing these egregious acts, and set a new tone that clearly demonstrates that they will no longer be tolerated," said Deans on Wednesday.
Sloly said the "ultimate resolution" in some cases of workplace sexual violence and harassment is "separation and termination."
"We don't want to anticipate the nature of the cases that could come forward but nor are we going to eliminate any of the options on which to handle the specifics of any case," he said.
Sloly said he expects Rubin and her team to begin accepting complaints from staff starting at the end of October.